Something strong is brewing in Pakatan

The opposition coalition may have revealed too much of its weaknesses, affecting its credibility in the eyes of the voters but these internal conflicts could turn to the advantage of Pakatan as they force its component parties to confront issues and find amicable solutions.

By Zubaidah Abu bakar. The New Straits Times


The loose pact that is Pakatan Rakyat is being strengthened and the opposition parties are hoping it will match a rebounding Barisan Nasional, writes ZUBAIDAH ABU BAKAR

THE component parties of the opposition pact, Pakatan Rakyat, are set to formalise their loose alliance next month under a Common Policy Framework.

A national convention, the climax to the ongoing state conventions that will be completed by the end of the month, should see the birth of a more united political bloc, one the opposition leaders hope would be a viable alternative to the Barisan Nasional ruling alliance.

It would be a double celebration of sorts should the Registrar of Societies approve the registration of Pakatan Rakyat Malaysia in time for its national convention in Shah Alam on Dec 19.

It is the first time that the three major opposition parties are seeking to be united as a legal entity with a common logo and single political aim.

Malaysia’s political ground, still fluid 20 months after the last general election, has pushed Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Pas and DAP into adopting basic ground rules and guiding principles to strengthen the coalition and further sustain their co-operation.

Until now the three parties, with their differing aims, ambitions and diverging policies, have been grappling to offer Pakatan Rakyat as a credible alternative to BN’s coalition of 13 political parties. More Malaysians, particularly those who had supported the opposition parties, are beginning to have doubts about its ability to rule.

Without doubt, Pakatan has lost some momentum since Datuk Seri Najib Razak took over the premiership from Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in April.

Thanks to the measures that Najib has since introduced, BN has regained some support lost in the last general election.

The health of the economy is a key challenge for Najib and current indications of the nation’s recovery will help in BN’s efforts to win over those who voted for the opposition last year.

A recent survey by the Merdeka Centre, showing that voters are beginning to feel positive about the economy, is a boost for the BN government.

In the survey conducted in September, 56 per cent of the respondents said they were satisfied with the prime minister’s performance.

A total of 47 per cent felt the country was heading in the right direction over issues which included the economy, while 56 per cent were satisfied with the way things were developing.

It may have been a smashing year for Pakatan last year but not so this year.

Cracks have been appearing frequently this year in this alliance of convenience, as each component party tries to impose its way on how to govern the states the coalition controls. The strain caused by a series of events has only unsettled the supporters.

As a result, Pakatan Rakyat leaders have been expending a lot of energy on damage control, putting the ship back on course to check eroding credibility and public trust.

“Sometimes, everybody wants to talk like a jaguh kampung and we end up working like a fire brigade,” opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said in calling for more discipline among Pakatan leaders at the Kelantan Pakatan Rakyat convention in Kota Baru last weekend.

At the conventions of the three component parties of Pakatan held in Perak, Penang, Selangor, Kelantan, Kuala Lumpur and Terengganu, warnings had been issued to members to toe the line.

Similar messages are expected at the other conventions, too.

“There will be no more warnings to errant leaders after this,” said PKR elections director Saifuddin Nasution Ismail.

By putting a stop to unwarranted and unsolicited comments, Pakatan leaders hope their members will remain steadfast in achieving a shared vision and target.

Party leaders at all levels have been reminded time and again that Pakatan is neither the forum nor the place for any group or individual to champion personal ideologies or those of the component parties.

Since its impressive performance at the general election last year, Pakatan has witnessed several public disagreements among its leaders, intra- and inter-parties alike.

Recently, two PKR members of parliament — Zulkifli Noordin and Sivarasa Rasiah — were involved in a public spat with Zulkifli challenging Sivarasa to quit his party post and face off with him in a contest over party policy.

At a recent meeting with a group of bloggers, Anwar assured that Zulkifli, the controversial Kulim Bandar Baru MP, regarded by opposition supporters as a thorn in the Pakatan flesh, had been cautioned.

Continuing distrust and doubts within the Pakatan fold have left people wondering whether the component parties can function well politically.

Doubts remain over Pakatan’s prospects for long-term survival, especially when the component parties had a similar coalition in the 1999 general election called the Barisan Alternatif that broke down two years later when DAP pulled out over Pas’ insistence on setting up a theocratic Islamic state.

Pakatan, despite problems at the local and state levels, is not likely to fall apart any time soon since its structure at the national level is beginning to get institutionalised to become a force to match the sturdy BN.

The opposition coalition may have revealed too much of its weaknesses, affecting its credibility in the eyes of the voters but these internal conflicts could turn to the advantage of Pakatan as they force its component parties to confront issues and find amicable solutions.

BN leaders should be sensitive to the development in the opposing political bloc or it will be an uphill task in certain states when the two coalitions go to the people again in the next national polls due by 2013.